The Concept of Double Consciousness and Striving for Self-Consciousness in W.E.B. Du Bois’s Double Consciousness Formula and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
The essay examines the appropriation of the double consciousness concept in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. At the time of its publication in 1952, Invisible Man was an innovative voice in the debate on double consciousness. Du Bois’s original double consciousness formula presents Afro-Americans as almost entirely deprived of agency. The original double consciousness formulation resembles an irrevocable sentence that haunts every African American throughout their lifetime: “Thou shalt have double consciousness.” There are few signs of hesitance or tentativeness on the part of Du Bois, who gives to his formula an air of immutability. Du Bois leaves black Americans very little room for maneuver and action, reducing them almost totally to objects of the white world’s indoctrination. Ellison, on the other hand, empowers African Americans, allowing them to reclaim agency. Acknowledging existing power relations, the racism of the white world and discrimination against African Americans, Ellison is still emphatic about the fact that African Americans can reject white people’s perspective on the world. African American self-perception cannot be manipulated without their acquiescence. Ellison’s character, the Invisible Man, is not blind. He rather keeps blinding himself to the stark, unvarnished truth about himself and African American reality. Constantly deadening his sense of perception, the Invisible Man suppresses a vital part of his self, running away from and towards self-consciousness. His intuition alerts him to the manipulations of white people, yet he dismisses all apprehensions. Resenting moments of recognition, he repeatedly slips from sharp awareness to blissful oblivion.